Japanese maglev line unlikely to meet 2027 opening date

The railway company behind ambitious plans to build a high-speed magnetic levitation (maglev) line between Japan’s major cities has acknowledged that it is now unlikely to come into service in 2027 as scheduled.

News agency Jiji Press has reported that in a media briefing Shunsuke Niwa – the new president of Central Japan Railway Co., or JR Central (aka JR Tokai inside Japan) – reiterated the company’s view that it will be difficult to open the maglev line between Tokyo and Nagoya, central Japan, in 2027 as initially planned.

Niwa, who took up his post last week, said he would make every effort to open the Chuo Shinkansen maglev line “as early as possible”.

JR Central already operates the high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen, which runs along the coastal plain between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The metropolitan areas of these three cities account for 90 per cent of Japan’s rail passengers. When it opened in 1964, the line was a huge commercial success, making it possible to complete the full 515km (320 mile) journey in three hours ten minutes and to make a return business trip in a single day.

The new Chuo Shinkansen is intended to serve the same cities, but will follow a completely different inland route, largely tunnelled through mountainous territory. It will use superconducting maglev technology to achieve speeds of up to 500km/h (310mph) and cut current journey times by more than half. In 2015, a prototype train achieved a world speed record of 603km/h (374mph) on JR Central’s maglev test track in Yamanishi prefecture.

In recent years, the company has placed increasing emphasis on the line’s ability to withstand earthquakes, which are a much greater threat in the coastal zone. In addition, faster journey times are expected to generate new demand, while also encouraging a shift away from flying.

However, the project has been beset with difficulties, ranging from allegations of bid-rigging among construction contractors to fierce resistance on environmental grounds. In particular, there have been concerns that construction could reduce water flow in the Oi river, causing shortages in downstream communities. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic severely hit the company’s income and hence its ability to set aside funds for the work.

In parallel with the Japanese efforts, China is developing its own superconducting maglev technology for high-speed transport systems. According to local media reports, railway manufacturing company CRRC Changchun completed a trial operation in March of this year that verified multiple core technologies, including superconductor, synchronous traction, induction power supply and low-temperature refrigeration in the maglev field.

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Original Source: https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2023/04/japanese-maglev-line-unlikely-to-meet-2027-opening-date/

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